A motion put forth by Liberal Party MP, Iqra Khalid, has been met with staunch criticism by some members of the Conservative Party of Canada and other members of the Canadian public. M-103, a motion calling on the government to condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination, has been said by some to threaten the status of free speech, among other things, in Canada.
The contested motion calls on the government to do three things to combat religious discrimination. Firstly, it asks the government to “recognize the need to quell the increasing public climate of hate and fear”. Secondly, to condemn Islamophobia and all other forms of systemic and religious discrimination. Finally, the motion requests that the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage conducts a study that establishes an approach to eliminate these forms of discrimination, to collect data on hate crimes, and to present these findings to the House.
As a non-binding motion that has no effect on Canada’s laws, it appears that this proposal is nothing more than a means of demonstrating good will and taking a stand against hate. However, some politicians, online publications, and citizens have opposed this motion stating that it singles out one religion for protection and attacks freedom of speech. Others have gone even further to suggest that Khalid is proposing to implement Sharia Law in Canada.
Potential Future Leaders’ Roles in Fear-mongering and Opposition
Some of the leading opponents of M-103 have been individuals running for the leadership position of the Conservative Party. Kellie Leitch, Brad Trost, Chris Alexander, and Pierre Lemieux, all spoke at an event on Wednesday evening hosted by the right-wing website, The Rebel. This platform gave them an opportunity to speak to a like-minded audience to denounce the motion and frame it as an attempt to criminalize criticisms of Islam. They cited the need to criticize Islam as a means of revealing its problematic notions such as the treatment of women, as well as for the fight against “Islamic jihadist terrorism”.
However, all candidates running for the Conservative leadership do not agree with this line of reasoning. Michael Chong, has stated his support for the motion and has publicly rejected claims that M-103 infringes free speech and is a stepping stone to Sharia law. In wake of the recent mass shooting at the Islamic Cultural Centre in Quebec, he notes that this motion is “appropriate and important”.
The discourse of those who oppose the motion condemning hate and fear-mongering has ironically utilized the same rhetoric being denounced. Politicians who see themselves fit to not only run their party but to become the future leaders of Canada have escalated, mislead, and reframed Khalid’s motion to make it something it is not. The motion clearly outlines that it stands in opposition to all forms discrimination and merely calls upon the government to investigate the matter and to denounce hate. The attempt of some politicians to reframe this motion heightens fear and discrimination against the role of Muslims in Canadian society, and reaffirms individual’s prejudices against minorities. These hopeful-leaders do not promote a society that sees inclusion as a strength. They exploit the insecurities, fears, and prejudices of a smaller portion of society by referring to issues of security and the need to maintain “Canadian values”. They oppose a motion that seems to reaffirm the obvious for their own political gain and allow bigotry to go unchecked. Perhaps it is because this is the exact behaviour being denounced by the motion that leads them to reject it.
Issues with the Opposition’s stance towards M-103
A central point of contention by opponents of M-103 has been the wording of the motion, which utilizes the term “Islamophobia”. This has been said to single out the religion for protection, and in turn, fails to protect other religions. This criticism comes regardless of the fact that the motion very clearly condemns all forms of systemic and religious discrimination. This is also not the first time that discrimination against a specific marginalized group has been identified and condemned. The House of Commons has previously denounced violence and discrimination against Yazidis, Jews, and Egyptian Coptic Christians. This further suggests that the issue is not that a particular group is being mentioned in the motion but who that group is: Muslims.
Additionally, another issue raised is that this motion constrains freedom of speech. However, this motion does not have an effect on law, considering it is non-binding. In reality, hate speech has already been banned in Canada with Section 319 of the Criminal Code. This section forbids any individual to incite “hatred against any identifiable group”. Those who are concerned with issues of free speech should be more concerned with Canada’s current legal balance between free speech and hate speech. Not a simple motion that acts more symbolically than anything and merely investigates the issue of discrimination.
Beyond this, there are valid reasons why the motion specifically mentions Islamophobia. In just a three year period the number of police-reported hate crimes against Muslims has tripled. The very rhetoric being denounced by the Liberal party has likely played a large part in this rise where those who hold bigoted views feel more comfortable expressing their sentiments. These sentiments have been exacerbated by the rhetoric and policy utilized south of the border to demonize Muslims and foreigners. Just recently, the attack in Quebec City demonstrated the bigotry and Islamophobia present in Canada when 6 Muslims were shot and killed during prayer.
The issue of protecting a single religion raised by opponents of the motion seems to reflect the same misleading and underlying bigotry present in statements that respond to “Black Lives Matter” with “All Lives Matter”. These responses, that disguise themselves as promoting inclusivity, deny the experiences of violence and marginalization groups face in society. It is not that Islam matters more than other religions, the issue is that the Muslim community is currently facing rising attacks from all angles. The government needs to step up and demonstrate leadership by condemning these, and all, acts of injustice.